Charlie’s taxis: Loving the labour of driving the disco bus

disco bus.jpg

A slightly off the wall post this one on driving, even if it is something relatively mundane in the modern world and just seen as a mere accompaniment to what we do nearly every day. It’s often framed as an annoying and exhausting addition to a working day when we want to get home and put up our feet. It’s considered laborious, but not work per se and we supposedly get no payment, at least not in monetary form. However, I am not with the majority here and have never really understood it in that way. It’s a space closely connected with being an academic and an athlete and for me far more than time eaten up just travelling to work and training. It’s not uncommon for an academic to make long commutes at some stage and as experience is gained as a triathlete there is no choice but to travel to bigger races.

Wherever we are going, whatever the time of day or driving conditions, the type of roads, however tired I am or how far we will go, you’ll have to wrestle me for the keys. I only drive circa 19,000 miles a year at the moment (about ten hours a week), but it genuinely gives me the utmost pleasure, so much so that I am usually sad when I park the car after only 10 minutes driving. This is not an arduous form of labour in my life that might be expected. I can understand why many commuters think it’s a waste of their time and money, but I’ve never felt that way, perhaps surprising giving that I cram every minute into my working and training day and devote every bit of spare money to either bike parts or race fees. However, I never find it tiring, perhaps being quite fit helps. Similar to racing drivers who are exceptionality fit outside of driving and are often endurance athletes themselves, Jenson Button and Mark Webber two notable examples. On a tiny bit of caffeine chewing gum I can drive for hours on end.

Of course, we all know I adore riding and racing bikes and a cyclist as a driver is supposedly more proficient in reading the road, has quicker reactions, is more aware of other cyclists, is more adept at controlling and steering a vehicle etc., at least that’s what some insurance companies who give reduced premiums suggest. I certainly drive a car like I ride a bike but more on that analogy later. I adore racing and I can’t deny the similarity in occurrence when driving. I love the intuition with the car itself but also the memories of the regular journeys and things gone past. Precisely nailing every corner, roundabout, overtake, and gear change to perfection is my love and drug. It’s also a chance for me to enjoy music and I never ever drive without my iPod on shuffle. OK, I am destroying the environment and spending a fortune on fuel I won’t deny but it’s also a very effective means of sustaining some sanity, especially if I can’t get out to ride much. It thus remains a fundamental part of my lifestyle that I factor in every week and never feel guilty about it. It’s simply what I do.

Beyond the physical labour and enjoyment of driving the car, there is more concerning the labour on myself during the drive. Like most people, I tend to drive two types of journeys, either longer ones or shorter versions ten minutes to work, the shops or gym (yeah, I am lazy, an athlete never uses extra energy when they don’t want or have to). The shorter ones become more of a transition, usually from training to work in the office or work at home. Those shorter journeys enable me to enjoy myself for a few minutes before shifting to a work mind set in a different physical space. After ticking off my training tasks, I then put the academic ones to the forefront of my mind. Driving also gives me the greatest sense of calm and distraction, probably because I just love to control something moving, ten minutes in the car before an anxious appointment or meeting works wonders like you wouldn’t believe.

During the longer journeys, I love being away from my 3G/4G/Wifi, namely my iPhone and MacBook. No TouchId here, I am out of touch. One of my more frequent drives consists of the A6 and 55 junctions of the A14 and those miles happen automatically, on repeat without any thought. Even though I am not thinking about the drive, I don’t get bored or lonely either, I like that I have to have a lot of trust in the driver in front, but I also like that I don’t have to talk to them. Thinking time. Academically I conjure up my blog posts, lectures, seminar exercises, paper ideas and various other forms of writing. I try to store ten points and if I can remember them when I get home, then they are keepers (of course I can’t or don’t write them down in transit). I also think on a broader conceptual level about myself as an academic rather than my academic work, what’s my research identity? What are my one, three and five-year plans? In this sense both of these pursuits remind me of one of the great benefits of an academic job. I am not always welded to a desk, I think fora job, rather than solely just about my job. In my solitary journeys I find I can think far more easily and freely without the noise of emails, other worries or simply the noise of my own mind telling me I am thinking non-sense. Without the commitment of a screen or piece of paper I can also think far more liberally and give myself a chance to wander with impossible ideas. I don’t have to subject them to a premature death by writing them down until I am ready.

During those long journeys I don’t have a list of things I work through. I just let things pop into my head. So naturally I can’t help thinking about triathlon things given that it’s such a huge part of me. I plan races, strategies, I consider the order of next week’s training sessions, and I believe without restriction. I also use it as a form of recovery. I am sitting comfortably, pretty much resting my body from the week’s or day’s efforts and barely burning calories. I therefore use my drive as time to make sure I am up to scratch with the day’s eating and drinking and if it’s after a long race or ride I will usually be driving on recovery shake. I can’t obviously have a three-course set-down meal but you’d be amazed what can be made portable these days.

On that note re portability, I have recently moved to driving a ‘bus’ which is unavoidable given the amount of kit I shift each week. An athlete virtually lives out of their car. Never go anywhere without anything, just in case an opportunity for a few minutes training presents itself. It makes the labour of shifting to training before or after work much easier when you don’t have to prepare too much kit.

So there, as an academic and athlete, it’s safe to say driving is like my own version of an after-work or training feet up TV show.

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